ODVV interview: The U.S. withdrawal from the...
In May 2018, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced one of his most controversial foreign policy decisions: withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, unofficially known as the Iran deal. Opinion polls showed the majority of Americans were in favor of remaining in the agreement, as they believed it would make their country safer. A case in point was a CNN survey conducted by SSRS shortly before President Trump’s announcement, which showed 63% of the Americans believed the U.S. should not withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement.
President Trump’s decision sent shockwaves across the world, and its immediate impact in Iran was unprecedented fluctuations in the country’s exchange market. The European Union also reacted with frustration, making it clear that it will remain committed to the nuclear deal, pivotal to the security and stability of the Middle East and neighbourhood. The U.S. President’s unilateralism and his adventurousness was not welcomed other than by a couple of countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia were too excited to hide their satisfaction at Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA; something he had promised to his supporters during the presidential campaign.
Pulling out of the Iran deal paved the way for the United States government to introduce fresh economic sanctions against Iran. Now, all the anti-Iran sanctions that were lifted following the inking of the JCPOA have been reinstated by President Trump, and the secondary sanctions of the United States also mean those countries that fail to comply with the U.S. punitive measures and continue maintaining their trade ties with Iran, might be targeted and penalized.
To discuss the security implications of the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and the humanitarian consequences of the U.S. sanctions against Iran, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence conducted an interview with Dr. Edward Wastnidge, a Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the Open University. Dr. Wastnidge is currently the Qualifications Director for the Open University’s International Studies program and has previously lectured at Manchester Metropolitan University, Keele University and the University of Manchester. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: What are the implications of the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA for global peace and security?
A: The US withdrawal from the JCPOA was a short-sighted, political move made by a president utterly unequipped for the realities of managing U.S. foreign policy. It shows that the current U.S. administration does not care for internationally recognized agreements, or the views of its allies. The Islamic Republic of Iran has every right to posses a peaceful, civilian nuclear program, and yet it still allowed one of the most rigorous inspection regimes and restrictions on its nuclear program to demonstrate its commitment to international norms in this area.
The U.S. abrogation of the JCPOA has potentially negative implications for global peace and security, because it demonstrates that international agreements previously signed by the U.S. are no longer sacrosanct. International cooperative endeavours, as evidenced by diplomatic achievements such as the JCPOA, are fundamental in preserving the rules based international system. By acting in this way, the U.S. also gives a green light to its allies in the Middle East to ramp up their anti-Iranian rhetoric and actions, which could result in a significant escalation of instability in the region.
Q: As claimed by the Trump administration officials, the new sanctions imposed on Iran in 2018 are the toughest punitive measures ever placed on any country. What’s your viewpoint about the humanitarian consequences of these sanctions and their impact on the lives of ordinary citizens?
A: The humanitarian consequences of such actions are the saddest outcome of the decision to reimpose punitive sanctions on Iran. This can be seen in the difficulties that ordinary Iranians face in accessing certain medicines for example. Also, the wider sanctions targeting Iran’s oil exports also have a potentially destabilising effect on the economy, adversely affecting citizens through increased inflation, and complications in securing international finance. The U.S. leadership claims that it wants to support ordinary Iranians, but their actions only undermine this supposed good intent, and they end up playing politics with people’s lives in an effort to appease their own support base and regional allies.
Q: Do you think the row between the United States and its European allies over the new sanctions on Iran is serious? Will the European parties to the JCPOA resist the U.S. pressure in order to convince Iran to remain in the nuclear deal?
A: I think that it is potentially serious, although I expect both sides will likely pull back from any significant escalation. For European nations, it’s really indicative of a wider divergence of views with the U.S. in terms of how to conduct international affairs. It’s also a chance for Europe to show a bit of strength and independence from the U.S., which is no bad thing. I think that many European leaders are hopeful of waiting it out, in the hope that Trump will only be a one term president, or may even not last his term due to other issues, and that common sense will once again prevail once he’s gone.
The European parties to the JCPOA have so far resisted U.S. pressure to abandon the deal, as they feel that it is working and is the best possible deal for all parties. They are really keen for Iran to stay in the deal, hence why they are trying to work on creative solutions to circumvent US sanctions – such as the SPV – though progress is frustratingly slow on this, and the Iranian government won’t wait forever of course.
Q: Iran lodged a complaint to the International Court of Justice against the United States over the latter’s imposition of economic sanctions on Iran. The ICJ ruled in favour of Iran and called upon Washington to lift the sanctions on food, medicine and aviation industry. The United States ignored the ruling, saying that it will not abide by it. Doesn’t the U.S. approach to the highest UN court set a bad precedent in international relations?
A: The U.S.’ response to the ICJ ruling is a sad yet all too real illustration of the current U.S. administration’s disdain for international norms and law. It shows that it currently does not wish to abide by norms that do not serve its own, narrowly-defined national and political interests. Of course, the U.S. has a long history of ignoring such institutions – particularly when they seek to hold the U.S. and its allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, to account.
Q: Saudi Arabia and Israel were the only countries that openly applauded the de-certification of the Iran nuclear deal by the United States. What do you think was the role of Israeli lobby, advocacy organizations and think tanks close to Saudi Arabia in the decision made by President Trump to pull out of the JCPOA?
A: I think that it is these very organisations, think tanks etc. that have the ear of President Trump and his increasingly hawkish foreign policy team, and they are a stain on the U.S.’ democracy and global reputation. The vast sums of money that these organisations receive from Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia shows that they exist to do those countries’ bidding. It’s embarrassing for a country like the U.S., one that prides itself on its democratic values and institutions, to be so easily manipulated by outside interests - it’s hardly ‘America First’!
People make entire careers for themselves in Washington DC through working for such organisations, casting themselves as supposed experts or authorities on Middle Eastern affairs. Yet they lack any intellectual or academic legitimacy, they are merely proxies for U.S. allies to try and shape U.S. policy in a way that suits them.
Q: Is the United States in a position to coerce other countries and companies across the world into terminating their business relations with Iran? Are the world countries and different private and public companies obliged to follow the U.S. lead and adjust their business bonds based on the White House instructions?
A: To a certain extent they can, due to the U.S. position in global trade and finance. They are able to bully countries and companies because of the power that they have, which is completely unjust. While public and private companies aren’t technically obliged to follow US government diktats they are forced to because of the threat of sanctions against them if they don’t.
However, one should never underestimate the capacity the people have for engineering creative solutions to get around such punitive measures, particularly if they are so blatantly political. It may be that this inspires new and creative solutions to counter U.S. dominance of the global trade and financial system, which will ultimately reduce the U.S. ability to use this kind of weapon.
Q: Do you think there’s room left for diplomacy and engagement with Iran while the U.S. President appears to be reluctant to abandon his aggressive rhetoric and policy towards Iran?
A: I’m always hopeful that diplomacy will prevail, but even my optimistic outlook has been severely tempered by the current U.S. government’s actions. The trust gained from negotiating the JCPOA was hard-earned, and required serious diplomatic skill and understanding. Starting from a position of understanding the other’s concerns and acknowledging the sources of previous mistrust allows diplomacy to prevail. Adopting an outwardly hostile stance, supporting terrorist opposition groups, and giving carte blanche to states such as Saudi Arabia to pursue reckless and pernicious actions in the Middle East does not breed confidence. How can you take someone’s request for direct negotiations seriously when they do everything to undermine and bully you?
I think it’s really important for Iran and its European partners, as well as key Asian states such as India and China, to find a way of countering the current U.S. administration’s obsessive hostility towards Iran.
By: Kourosh Ziabari